Hatching / Incubator Update
The morning of January 30, we found that the incubator holding the eggs I had set on Jan. 15th was sitting at 136 degrees F. The eggs themselves were too hot to hold.
What happened? It wasn’t that the temperature was calling for heat — it wasn’t. Instead, the relay in the controller that switches power off and on to the heating element was fused into the ON condition.
We’re now looking for a non-digital solution for temperature control. Hopefully by the time you get this email, I’ll have already sorted out and rescheduled the orders that were affected.
Questions from the last newsletter
We received several questions when we sent out our last newsletter. We’ve answered them individually, but we also thought others might be interested in the answers, too.
Question 1: What is a community egg nest?
A community nest is one that will accommodate many birds at once.
Birds like to share nests. But when they share a 1 square foot cube, it gets crowded. And eggs get broken. With a larger nest box, more birds can fit together without the crowding that leads to damaged eggs.
We’ve made community nest boxes out of scrap wood, and we’ve purchased several community roll out nest boxes. A roll out nest box is one where the eggs roll out of the nest once they are laid. They roll into an area where they are easy to collect but hard for the birds to access. This prevents eggs from breaking, and it also keeps the birds from eating or fouling the eggs.
Question 2: Does scratch grain count in the 4 oz of feed that the chickens get each day?
In the last newsletter I mentioned limiting layers to 4 ounces of formulated feed a day. A few further points I wanted to mention about this:
First, limiting feed only applies to birds that are already laying. While a bird is still growing, we let them eat as much as they can. Once they start laying, we limit them to 4 oz per day of formulated feed.
Second, chicken scratch does NOT count towards that 4 oz. of daily feed.
We use scratch as a way to encourage certain behavior. For example, I like my Delawares to come out of the coop and greet me in the morning. So, for a flock of 14, I throw them 1/3-1/2 cup of scratch grain each day. I fling it out in a wide pattern, normally into the grass so they have to work to get it. They have learned that I’m likely to dispense such treats, and so they come out and work – and get more exercise – looking for the scratch.
Question 3: How do I avoid wasting feed with the younger birds?
The key here is to keep the top of the feed tray slightly above the back of the birds. This encourages the birds to reach up for the feed, and in that position they’re less able to flick feed out of the feed tray. A feed tray that’s too low encourages the birds to push feed out of the tray onto the ground.
More Thoughts on Craft versus Commodity
I talk to a lot of people who ask me which hatchery they should buy chicks from. And many times it comes down to which one has the best customer service. But rather than see the topic as “customer” service, I like to view it as “The Craft of Serving People.”
Not everyone I talk to is going to become a customer – but they are all still people. Some of what I do is help some people figure out that our birds are not a good fit for them. When I do so, I feel like I’ve served them well.
Like we discussed last time, craft has to do with scale. And given the scale of our farm, serving people has to be a craft, not a commodity. Many commercial hatcheries have rooms of people that do nothing but take orders and answer questions. To me, that can commodify the serving of people, reducing it to “just a job.”
How do we make it a craft instead?
I’ve realize there are some things that I’m good at, and some things that I’m not so good at.
I’m pretty good at:
- Feeding/Watering/Cleaning birds – basic chicken care
- Watching the birds – seeing which ones are producing and which ones are not, recognizing problems and fixing them before they become bigger problems
- Setting eggs and hatching them
- Packing and shipping chicks
- And talking to people
I’m not so good at:
- Returning phone calls (which may sound contradictory, but I’ll clarify).
- Returning emails
- Planning what orders should be filled on which hatch date.
A book I read recently on learning a musical instrument at an older age (Guitar Zero is the name of the book) made the point that we improve by practicing the areas that we are not good at. If we only practice the parts of the musical score that we’re already good at, we don’t improve. He calls this kind of practice on our weak spots “deliberate practice.” In this light, I see that the areas that I need to “practice deliberately” are largely related to serving people – that is, making it a craft.
I first thought I could get better by setting goals – like return all phone calls before the end of the day and answer all emails by the end of the day. It turns out that while setting goals is important, actually practicing reaching them is more important. And It’s better to have a specific time and place to practice than it is to have lofty goals. Then just “showing up to practice” is a large part of the effort.
I get to deliberately practice my areas of weaknesses a couple of hours a day, and I think I’m starting to see some improvements. For now, we have a service that answers the phone when I’m not available. We have this service because I’d rather talk to a real person than to a voice mail, and I think the same is true for our customers. The answering service is able to handle some requests – like catalog requests – and they generally know which breeds we carry.
For every call we receive, they send me an email with the notes from the call. Back in late December and early January, I was taking 2-3 days to return calls. This last week I’ve been averaging under 20 hours to return phone calls and answer emails. And I’ve been able to maintain that even while travelling. So “deliberate practice” really works.
Funny thing is, the hardest part for me of returning calls is actually dialing the number. Once I’m talking to someone – it’s easy. I enjoy talking to people. So don’t hesitate to call or email us your questions. While I can only return calls during “normal hours,” I can answer emails in the off-normal hours. So email is often a quicker way to get hold of me.
And this relates to raising chickens, too. Find a way to deliberately practice those areas in your chicken care that need help – it’s the fastest way to improve your craft.